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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 01 2011

Here’s to Jack LaLanne

By Mark Sisson
92 Comments

Jack LaLanne died last week. He was 96, still a bit sweaty from his morning workout when they found him, and had a vicegrip of a handshake that could crush a man half his age – even on his deathbed. Old farmers had nothing on his grip.

Jack’s TV show was one of my first exposures to the world of fitness, or, as he put it, physical culture. Growing up in New England, I had spent my days exploring the adjacent backwoods, climbing trees, skinning knees, and getting into trouble, but I wasn’t “working out.” I had no concept of it. I was just doing what felt right and what was fun, and most kids did the same. Jack LaLanne introduced us to the formal concept of physical fitness. He was one of the first to realize that the childhood impulse toward physicality and movement needed to be nurtured and developed in adulthood. I still remember sitting in a chair in front of the TV doing knees-to-chests, just like Jack.

Still, something wasn’t quite right, I thought. Here Jack would be doing relatively light exercises on camera – jumping jacks, jogging in place, various full body movements without weights – but he was completely ripped. I mean, he was huge, especially for the time. Big chest, lats like wings that rivaled Bruce Lee’s, a thin waist, biceps like softballs. The guy obviously didn’t get that body doing the workouts he was showing us. He was keeping the good stuff secret. There had to be an entire other world of exercise lurking out there, and I knew it was a whole lot more intense than what he was doing. And I wanted to know.

So I started looking. Thus began my serious pursuit of physical fitness. Jack LaLanne had it, and I wanted it. Our methods differed, of course. I gravitated toward long distance running, mostly because I was a skinny kid with a propensity for endurance, but I became convinced that pursuing excellence in physical fitness was worth doing because of Jack. I mean, fitness as a concept wasn’t even on my radar before him. It was just something you did as a kid because it was fun, and your mom and dad didn’t do because it’s just kid’s stuff.

Jack changed all that. Yeah, LaLanne wasn’t Primal, but we had more in common than you might suspect:

He famously said “If man made it, hate it.” Jack only ate real, whole food and never touched refined sugar. He shunned red meat late in life and ate egg whites, lean meats (mostly fish) and whole grains, but his emphasis on real food is notable.

He worked out every morning in a fasted state before breakfast and ate just twice a day.

He wore ballet flats that might as well have been barefoot shoes.

Before we had easy access to reams of medical journals featuring research on the link between physical activity and brain function, Jack intuitively knew exercise was about mental fitness and psychological well-being as much as it was about physical fitness. A constant refrain of his was that people were unhappy, unfit, and messed up because we had forgotten how to move and live naturally.

He bucked Conventional Wisdom. All the experts insisted that weight training made athletes slow and bulky, turned women into man-beasts, and was bad for older people, heart disease patients, and the libido. We know this to be nonsense, but it was “truth” sixty years ago. And it might still be if Jack hadn’t opened up the nation’s first gym in 1936, popularized strength training, and got a nation of women interested in fitness.

He fed his dog, Happy, raw ground beef and liver every day.

He valued quality over quantity. “I really don’t give a damn how long I live, but I want to live while I’m living.”

Besides all the overlaps with Primal living and not even taking into account his famous feats of strength (beating Arnold in a chinup and pushup contest at Muscle Beach, towing a fleet of 70 ships across the Long Beach Harbor at age 70) , Jack LaLanne was just an awesome dude.

He had a penchant for sexual innuendo. Check out his seemingly throwaway comment on the famous fingertip pushup video, and note his preceding form: “Get your husband to try it tonight, but not you.” And then there’s his extremely explicit Playboy interview from 1984.

He influenced my disdain for the overly complicated and drawn-out warmup: “Fifteen minutes to warm up! Does a lion warm up when he’s hungry? ‘Uh-oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.’ No! He just goes out and eats the sucker.”

Only he could pull off those skintight sleeveless jump suits (paired with those amazing ballet slippers, of course). Actually, this is probably, literally true; LaLanne had to get his jumpsuits tailor made because his body proportions were so exaggerated.

The man was a force to be reckoned with. He was an admitted zealot, a self-described health and fitness nut who, when asked how long he’d live, replied, “The earth will go first.” I will say that he seemed to have a poor opinion of human nature. He seemed to buy into the notion that we are savage beasts, constantly struggling against our animal natures, whether it was lust for drugs or junk food or booze or meat – and copious amounts of training and ironclad discipline and willpower were his buffers against that side of himself. I think for someone who can pull it off and keep it up, the draconian self-regulation works, but I think it can be harmful for a lot of people, especially when they fail or slip up. And that’s his other legacy, one that I shy away from, personally.

In the end, though, all of us involved in physical culture, diet, and health – we’re all fighting for the same goal. Our methods may differ slightly or massively, we may be vegans or full-blown carnivores, but we can all find common ground. Jack LaLanne wouldn’t have agreed with a lot of what I have to say, and I bet he would have agreed that my cookbook was one of the year’s unhealthiest, but we were both trying to make people healthier, happier, and stronger.

Well, Jack, you’re gone and the earth remains, but it’s just not the same. Here’s to you. I’ll toss an egg yolk in your honor.

nathancremisino Flickr Photo (CC)
TAGS:  Aging

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92 thoughts on “Here’s to Jack LaLanne”

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    1. What are your thoughts on the health benefits or lack thereof of drinking alkaline water or its benefits in regards to cancer?

  1. Excellent post, and he absolutely deserved it (don’t even get me started on that NYT article!). I was born after Jack LaLanne’s show went off the air, but I watched a bunch of the reruns online after I went Primal. And I remember thinking the same thing – “seriously, what does this guy ACTUALLY do?” He looked like a Greek God!

  2. The Playboy interview is really interesting. Thanks for adding that.

    1. Yes. It is very interesting. It may be a little explicit but there is a lot of quality information in there.

      Does anyone know why he started to eat grains?

  3. From that playboy interview he only really got into grains when he was in his 70’s. I wonder what that did to him health wise.

  4. I remember as a kid, trying to emulate Jack LaLanne while standing it front of the idiot tube – he was truly an icon and an inspiration – he must have done somethin’ right lasting and healthy (and virile!) till 96, yes?
    Hopefully our direction here is “standing on his shoulders”
    RIP Jack…

    1. Really? Any evidence of that?

      “Share Guide: You never did that in your body building days, did you?

      Jack LaLanne: No, never. When I was entering Mr. America and other contests, all that junk was just becoming available. I wouldn’t do that—no way. ”

      http://www.shareguide.com/LaLanne2.html

      1. Well he didn’t object to marijuana or cocaine so I doubt steroids held much fear for him. He certainly never condemned Arnie for taking them.

        1. Ah, DEFINITIVE PROOF that Jack took steroids. Thanks for setting us straight.

  5. Jack’s gone but, never forgotten and will live on in those wonderful clips from his show. What quality he was.

  6. Mark, I’m SO glad you did a piece on Jack. I was strangely saddened last week when I heard he’d died. I guess because I used to watch him so much when I was a kid (I think you and I are about the same age).

    He really was ahead of his time, wasn’t he?

    I saw a cartoon tribute to him last week in which he’d accidently ripped one of the pearly gates off it’s hinges…. 🙂

  7. i loved, at 5, doing push ups with jack! and his wife! and my mother was right next to me, smoking her cigarette between a jumping jack or two. which at the time, didn’t seem so out of the ordinary.

  8. Before Jack came along, common wisdom was that cardio would give you a heart attack, and weight training would make you impotent. He was an educator and an inspiration! He was the first fitness guru, and all those who come after him, owe him a debt, and honor. Good on ya, Mark… Good on ya.

    1. First fitness guru? Hold on there.
      Most people don’t know that it was
      Paul Bragg who pull a young 14yo
      Jack from the gutter of sickness,
      and turned his life around. No
      disrespect to Jack, But if wasn’t
      for Paul, Jack wouldn’t be who he
      was today. Rest in peace to both
      the forefathers of health and
      fitness, Paul Brag and Jack LaLanne.

      1. What about the ancient Greeks and the Minoans before them? They all left evidence of a fitness culture. They left us the Olympic Games.

        Jack was great, though. I grew up watching him, too. RIP, Jack LaLanne — Thanks for all you did for the health and fitness movement!

      2. “I” knew that. Was interested in Paul Bragg since the 1970’s AND I found out later that Jack was dragged to one of Paul’s seminars. They were late so Jack had to sit on the stage – in the corner of it. It changed his life, he said. Jack was a “baddie”. I think he tried to burn a house down or something to the effect, he said. Interesting: My mother was born the same day and year as Jack. She lived just as long…..

  9. Oh boy, am I’m going to greatly miss the robust old Jack Lalanne! I did not know he died last week. Well, actually I was wondering if he was still alive. I hope he’s in the very presence of the Most High God, the creator of all things. I loved the way Jack did not allow age to stop him, that was great! Only death stopped him unfortunately. We’ll missed you Jack.

  10. Heard he died of “the old man’s best friend” — pneumonia. That confuses me, if true.

    What a great guy…..

    Thanks for the obit, Mark; done with heart and rhythm.

  11. Well done sir. A fitting tribute.

    We will miss you greatly, Mr. Lalanne. Further proof that aging is largely a result of society, not years.

  12. Mark, I wondered when you would comment on LaLanne’s passing. He was a force that took on all comers with a passion and a certainty made you a believer. While some of what he advocated goes against the primal lifestyle, much was right on target–bodyweight exercises, movement, real foods, and play.

    He lived the kind of life for which we should all strive–a life of purpose and passion, long and vibrant to the very end.

  13. Mark,

    Great obit for Jack. Clearly he was a fitness/health visionary with a little bit of PT Barnum mixed in.

    And, thank you for pointing out the dark side of his philosophy as well. The concept of will-power is a throwback to another time, and as you said, harmful to many people. You have to balance any man’s life, and I think you did so in an authentic, classy manner.

  14. I find it interesting that no one mentions that he was a chiropractor and that getting adjusted on a regular basis played a huge role in his health and life.

    1. Too bad the whole “chiropractic” thing and spine alignment stuff is a load of BS.

      1. Maybe, but they can still get results. I had a pain in my side that would not go away at all after a rough day of jiu-jitsu, and my doctor couldn’t fix me, nor could the physical therapist to whom she sent me. It wasn’t until I saw a chiropractor that I got healed, something about a disk in my back being misaligned or something. Anyway, it cleared up in a few days after he did his thing.

      2. So not true buddy. I have literally walked into a chiropractors office bent over like a 90 year old woman with osteoporsis and walked out upright..the results were always amazing…

        1. Curative aspects of chiro work – they have to or else no one would see them for back pains, etc… it’s the disease-prevention stuff that’s pseudoscience – the guy that invented chiropracty believed all modern diseases was caused by a misaligned spine, or by damage that only chiros can detect

      3. Whether some of the more esoteric claims of chiropractic are true, I couldn’t say.

        But if your back or neck is out, they can pop it right back where it belongs, and it will stop hurting.

      4. Too bad so many are tied to conventional wisdom and the load of BS in their closed minds.

        That “chiropractic” spine alignment thingy has worked for my back pain where specialist docs, drugs, and therapists have all failed.

      5. In 1994 a 3000 person retrospective study at Cal Irvine Medical School showed that people receiving Network (A gentle chiropractic technique) had improvement in over 100 areas of quality of life…physically, emotionally, mentally and primarily their ability to deal with stress. Doesn’t sound like BS to me.

      6. Some chiropractors are full of crap. You have to find a good chiropractor just like you need to find a food MD or other problems/ diagnosis. Making a blanket statement is ridiculous. If you pinch a nerve you will have problems. Some chiropractors may overexaderate the importance of getting adjusted. But spinal rehab is no joke. Correcting the curve in a person neck has been shown time and time again to improve health by taking pressure off the brain stem. Foward head posture is horrible. It would be like trying to straighten out a banana(snap). Chiropractic is an outstanding tool. Many MDs and CHiropractor and physical therapist work together and exchange patients and see multiplied results. The only problem i see at some offices is that they do not explain the importance of exercise and nutrition. Without propper nutrition you cannot heal bones and cartilage and without propper exercise you cannot permanently correct posture and protect health.

        1. Agreed.

          Some people are full of crap all the time, and all of the people may be full of crap some of the time, but NOT all people are full of crap all of the time.

          However, my experience with chiropractors is that they are much more in tune with practical nutrition than the typical MD and their nutritionist/dietician referral specialists. Some chiros may adhere to some CW nonsense about “whole” grains over “processed” grain but just about all do encourage avoidance of sweets and other obvious SAD food toxins. My current chiro is for low-carb non-grain based diet (more like paleo than primal).

          The therapy includes deep tissue message and accupuncture/accupressure techniques in addition to skeletal adjustments. I will admit that my chiro is kind of weird about the drinking ionized alkaline water crap.

      7. I am pain free because of chiropractic care! I have regular adjustments and am rarely sick. It is common sense that if something is out of place (subluxation) that it needs to be put back where it belongs. You need to open your mind, grasshopper.

    2. I didn’t realize he was a DC. I knew he was a ardent advocate and supporter of chiropractic. Thanks for that info.

  15. My mother used to watch Jack every day when I was little. I thought he looked like a spaceman in that jumpsuit.

  16. I really enjoyed this piece. From over the pond as I am (and a little younger than some!) I wasn’t aware of him at all. I watched the Youtube and then read the Playboy article and you can hear him speaking through the text!

    What a character.

  17. I’m pretty sure Jack also said, “if it tastes good, spit it out.” I know what he was going for, but really, did he ever try bacon?

  18. He was quite a character around town in Morro Bay where he and Elaine retired. He would ask the waitresses at the local restraunt to marry him at least once a week! Last mothers day we went to brunch and he was there sipping mimosas and going from table to table kissing all the moms. His grip was truely strong for sure!

  19. Mark me down as another that watched him in the morning, before Captain Kangaroo.
    He was truly a class act. Thank you Jack for keeping real & simple.
    Carry on the legacy!

  20. Was hoping you’d chime in on ol’ Jack. Quite the character, he was. I’ve used a photo of him for inspiration for awhile now. He’s in his late 80’s with his body about 6 inches off the ground, nothing but his toes and fingertips touching down.

    Truly inspirational. Thanks for your take, Mark!

  21. I did not know he wore ballet slippers. That is really interesting. I’ve pondered getting ballet slippers or similar for the gym.

    1. I think back then they were thought of as “gymnast shoes”. Maybe they still are!

    2. I’ve actually seen people wearing these at the gym. Seems like they’re coming back.

  22. Check out this Lalanne meal plan from the 50s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuW3RfWJ1H0

    It’s 80% primal, with no cereal, no starchy vegetables and only one bread in day and a little dairy.

    But to go back another generation with this, you need to check out Bernarr MacFadden, who started “Physical Culture” magazine in 1899, founded health clubs, advocating long walks as the best exercise and fasted one day per week. Most of what is described as paleo today existed in various forms in the 19th and early 20th century, although there was no science behind it.

  23. RIP Jack Lalanne I loved the guy in the videos from the 1960s.
    bit disappointed by the playboy interview though.

    Question: if he “didn’t get that body doing the workouts he was showing us”, does that mean Mark you aren’t giving out all your secrets either? the WOW stuff seems a bit soft to me 😛

  24. I’m old enough to remember watching him on a black and white television set … he was a giant.

  25. Glad you did a more indepth post rather than a few paragraphs I’ve read in a few other places as I wanted to know more about Jack. He got pneumonia after having some surgery. That’s the risk of surgery you open your body up to germs.

  26. I saw a twitter post, “Jack Lalanne will be carrying his own casket at his funeral”

    Jack was a legend, awesome dude!

  27. Damn. There was a public memorial today, too…about 2 miles from where I live! God Speed, Jack!

  28. Love Jack but take issue with his quote about lions just running after their prey. For the most part, they don’t. They wait and stalk for awhile before chasing and pouncing. Stalking is a natural prelude to a chase. Big cats are equipped for bursts of speed, not distance.

  29. I remember articles in Vogue as well as various other womens’ magazines stating that if a woman wanted to achieve optimum fitness, to just push the vacuum cleaner harder and faster, do big circles with the arms while scrubbing the tub, etc. (I am 62…the articles were written in the mid-sixties). There were no running shoes for women, we were not allowed to run marathons (or fly airplanes)…and then one day I saw Jack Lalanne on TV…he changed my life. Then his wife joined in…she helped change the world for women, all for the better. I DID go to the Marine Corps Ball in Santa Ana with a broken toe after hitting my foot while “working out with Jack”…and in pointy-toe heels! LOVE YOU, JACK! THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL LEGACY…REST IN PEACE, AND TEACH THE ANGELS A FEW NEW TRICKS!

  30. Wow I only just found out who Jack Lalanne was. What an awesome guy, yeah he hit it right on the mark with physical activity well into adulthood. It just seems to me there comes a stage in life where physical fitness seems immaterial because it doesn’t make money, but seeing how long this guy lived and how long he remained active, it’s proof fitness is cheaper than sickness.

    RIP Jack Lalanne, and thanks for yet another great example.

  31. Jack LaLanne didn’t brush his teeth.

    He had Chuck Norris do it for him.

  32. RIP.

    but i heard in recent years, he switched to a mostly plant diet?

  33. I am sad today. He is the standard of exercise extreme and helped me immensely on my journey. Check out Google images for Jack at 71. He looks great. Muscular etc. He is still espousing a meat, eggs, fat diet. He later got taken down by the lipid hypothesis like the rest of us. Started juicing…(sugar)…eating skinless chicken breasts and salads. Quickly became just as old as many other people who never exercised. SAD. I loved him in all his glorious nuttiness. I hate Ancel Keyes and the crooks who convinced Jack the Giant to give up his eating beliefs (You Tube and you will hear him talk about steak, eggs, etc.) and follow their road to unwellness. A SAD day for me, but not a SAD day for eating. Long live the memory of Jack the Giant.

  34. the comment about lion warming up is LOL.

    reminds me of a book by a martial art trainer, he said something like

    flexibility without usage is useless. a martial artist should be combat ready at all time. imagine telling your opponent, “wait for me for 5 minutes to warm up so i can kick high!”

    (that was before i switched diet but somehow it just stuck.)

    regards,

  35. I have to confess that I had to look up his name and read his biography, as I sadly had never heard of him before.

    What a man and what an amazing life. RIP Jack.

  36. Mark,
    Great post! Jack was a great inspiration to all of us and I totally agree that although everyone’s methods or nutritional beliefs may be different we all are looking for the same outcome. Here’s to a fitter tomorrow!

  37. He wrote a book, “Live Young Forever”, that was quite an eye opener. Up until about age 14 he was a sickly, scrawny sugar junkie. That sugar addiction added to his own hyper personality, causing him to be continually in trouble, picking fights, etc.
    He went to a lecture on healthy living and it turned his life around. He threw himself into it, trying some weird things, but eventually found what worked for him.
    We need more like him. He should have been on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness all those years, along with Arnold.
    The fact is, as a nation we’ve just become lazy. I help teach Tae Kwon Do and the lack of fitness and coordination of the kids there is appalling. I wasn’t any shining example of fitness as a child, but I could at least play leap frog. We have kids do that in our classes, but so many of them go over their crouched classmates without ever getting both feet off the mat.
    I’ve also read reports that military recruiters are having a hard time finding teenagers fit enough to induct.

    1. I’ve read that up to 1/3 of the 17-24 year olds in the US are too fat to enlist making our country’s weight a national security issue.

      1. According to what I’ve read, this was a complaint all the way back in WWI.

  38. Well said Mark. Easier for us to see him as a visionary in hindsight than people could see at the time.

  39. You haven’t heard of him? His infomercials for his juicer, featuring him and his wife, are ALL OVER the place. He opened the first gym in the country. And to the reply about the lion…for crying out loud, stop splitting hairs. It was for fun!

  40. I can’t tell you how glad I am to see this blog. Jack Lalanne always was, and always will be my hero. And in my opinion he was (it is still unreal to me that he did die) proof of the validity of the Paleo way of life. I cherish his book more than anything in the world, and the more I look into Jack, the clearer it becomes he did live a mostly Paleo lifestyle and anything that wasn’t was posing, because he was also a salesmen. Most of his meals consisted of fresh meats and veggies and desserts were just fruit and juices(looking at all pictures of him cooking I never saw bread, just salads, veggies and meat). Even in his book (live young forever), in the sections on veggies pages and pages were dedicated, where as like 3 were dedicated to grains. He knew what was up, he just didn’t want to take on the conventional wisdom too much, in my opinion of course. With that said, I’m rambling, I’m sorry to see him go, he was a man WAY ahead of his time and the one person who showed us how you can live if you dedicate yourself properly to a healthy lifestyle, one that all of us here at least have the power and knowledge to follow.

  41. Fav line from Jack Lalanne: (at age 93)
    “My wife and I have sex almost everyday. Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday…”

    funny guy and the reason they call em’ “jumping jacks”

  42. Hear hear. RIP, Jack, you’ll be sorely missed. I love that his ever-driving goal in life was simply to inspire others. A true humanitarian.

  43. I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Lalane on several occasions. It was 15 years or so ago. He was polite and kind to all, but that guy was a FIRECRACKER! Mr. Lalane was a player (not really in a negative way) If Elaine was not looking and some gal walked by, Mr. Lalanes eyes would track her like radar on a Mig… I swear the man moved and talked like he was 25. He was always respectful of his wife and fawned over her…

    Hey! This was going to be a quick post!

    1. I had an opportunity to communicate with him as well. I have an autographed picture! Hes my hero. I work out every day because of him.

  44. thank you for giving jack a proper tribute…. eat well, exercise, keep spine healthy, think happy thoughts, live life…..and have lots of sex…lol Jack is the man.

  45. Great post, Mark. I was sad to read that he had died last week. I thought he might just live forever. I loved that he used his common sense. He was definitely an great influence to all of us!

  46. I remember Jack as a kid too. I miss him as an inspiration, and and a Brother Mason.

  47. Great article and reminder that Jack was anything but conventional. I find that if everyone is doing or thinking the same thing, then no one is doing much or thinking much of anything -original, that is.

    Jack was an original, who ate real food back when real food was readily available.

    Humans thrive better on a biologically appropriate diet of nutrient dense lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and low glycemic fruits and veggies. The majority of North Americans have insulin related challenges.

    If Americans are to conquer obesity and reclaim their health, we must look to our ancestors. We can do this by eliminating or severely reducing our consumption of corn based food, grains, all sweets, fried foods and sodas. Eat like Jack.

    Healthy fats are essential for humans.
    Protein is essential for humans.
    Carbohydrates are not considered essential for humans.

    I don’t think people realize that every year the food and drug companies spend well over $50 billion on marketing messages to U.S. consumers, designed to influence our food and medical choices.

    We must reject artificial, false foods, GMO’s and vote with our dollars buying only real foods.

    Stay Healthy & thanks for the kind words about Jack!

    Toni
    http://www.natural-health-home-remedies.com/healthy-food.html

  48. Jack LaLanne was a GUN-GRABBING BASTARD.

    Many prayed, and waited for his death.
    His soul now resides in Hell.

    Burn forever, Jackie-boy.
    Where’d it get ya?

    1. How can you say where his soul resides? Were you there to see it leave his body at the time of his death??? What makes you an authority on where a man’s soul resides?

    2. hey tony, why all the hate towards him?? id never heard of him up until a few weeks back but he seemed like a great guy to say the least. id seriously take a look at my own existence before slating someone elses son. thats the trouble these days,(apart from our failing health) theres too many people like yourself who just talk bulls*t & not enough jacks who just want to make things better.